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New mining activities have been approved across more than 150,000 hectares of public conservation land since 2017, OIA documents obtained by Forest & Bird reveal. 

Activities applied for or approved range from exploration for lithium on numerous conservation areas south-west of Rotorua; drilling for coal on the unique sandstone erosion pavements of the West Coast’s Denniston Plateau; a possible tungsten mine near Glenorchy; and numerous gold exploration activities in and around Coromandel Forest Park and Victoria Forest Park.

In addition, there are numerous public conservation areas currently subject to minerals permits from New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals where the companies involved have not yet sought permission from the Department of Conservation. This includes Puketi Forest in Northland, and lithium exploration in a conservation area near Whangarei.

“The Government made the promise to stop new mines on public conservation land in 2017, but continues to approve prospecting and exploration activities in these rare and precious areas. Allowing mineral exploration in these landscapes sends a strong signal that protected areas which are home to native species today will be mine pits tomorrow,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“The majority of our conservation land is not currently safe from damaging mining activities – that includes ecological areas, scenic reserves, forest parks, and stewardship land,” says Mr Hague.

“Despite being derided by some as being a ‘wasteland’, stewardship land is no such thing – it has simply not yet been formally categorised. These areas often have the highest biodiversity values of any conservation land and are home to species such as kiwi, long-tailed bats, giant carnivorous snails, and lowland kahikatea forest.

"In many cases, mining these areas causes permanent loss, and in others it takes decades to recover. Temporary predator control schemes offered as compensation for some of the most damaging mines do not make up for this.  

“At a time when New Zealand is trying to plant more forests, it makes no sense to clear-fell existing native forest. As time runs out to prevent dangerous climate change, it makes no sense to start new mines for coal.

"New Zealand’s endangered species can’t afford to lose more of their forest and wetland habitats to mining. Public conservation land is needed for nature. Aotearoa has more than 4,000 species threatened with extinction by industries that just extract more and more from nature. Our environment is at breaking point, and time is running out to protect it.

“We believe a line needs to be drawn now – no new mines on conservation land, as Prime Minister Ardern promised in her Speech from the Throne in 2017,” says Mr Hague.

A table of prospecting and exploration applications made to the Department of Conservation between 8 November 2017 and 8 July 2020 is available here. More information on some of the applications listed is also available on request.

In total, the number of prospecting, exploration and mining applications over the two and a half years is shown below.

Table of mining permission 8 Nov 2017 – 8 July 2020 Type of mining permission   

Number applications received   

Number approved   

Number declined   

Number withdrawn/ returned   

Number pending   

Minimum Impact Activity   






Exploration Access Arrangement   






Mining Access Arrangement   







  • A recent Forest & Bird magazine article is available here which includes an interview with iwi on the possible mining at Horohoro mountain, an area that is home to kākā, karearea/New Zealand falcon, and pekapeka/long-tailed bats, with kōkako living nearby.

In the six years from 2012-2018, New Zealand had an increase of nearly 2000 hectares of land categorised as mines and dumps, and almost 800 hectares of that came from native habitats.

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